There is a trend in San Gabriel elections and politics that has remained taboo for too long. I am challenging the discrimination that has reared its head too many times in the City that I love.
By Sean McMorris
The opinions expressed here are my own, but the facts are the facts.
The winds of change bring denial
The election was marked by assertions of sign stealing, pay-to-play, and bitter online political fights between liberal and conservative electorate bases. Further heightening emotions was the fact that Councilwoman Costanzo led in the exit polls up until the final week before election certification, resulting in some Costanzo supporters being unaware that she had lost until Ding was sworn in on April 7, 2020.
Emails between then-Councilwoman Costanzo and the City Clerk’s Office show that Costanzo initially filed with the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder’s office for a recount of the election results for her race. Costanzo informed the San Gabriel City Clerk on the evening of April 6 that a recount would occur. Then, less than 24 hours later and just before the new City Council was installed, the County Registrar-Recorder’s Office notified City Hall that a recount would not occur after all.
It is not clear why the Councilwoman withdrew her request for a recount. It could have been purely monetary (the cost of a recount is expensive). It could have been the result of reality setting in (believe it or not, overcoming 14 votes in a recount is highly unlikely). Or, it could have been that the initial filing itself achieved its purpose to lay the groundwork for a counter-narrative that would shore up an angry base. The actions that transpired after the election lead me to believe that it is, at least partially, the latter.
Laying the foundations for a false narrative
ColoradoBoulevard.net obtained emails between then-Councilwoman Costanzo and the City Clerk’s office that reveal Costanzo believed the election results were the product of wrongdoing. In a March 30, 2020 email (L.A. County certified elections results on March 27), San Gabriel City Clerk, Sharon Clark, wrote the following to Costanzo:
Hi, Juli. Are you aware of enough voters whose vote didn’t show up to change the result of the election, or is it that the cases you know of may be indicative of a larger problem? Just curious.
L.A. County Registrar-Recorder’s Office
I reached out to Ms. Costanzo for elaboration and any substantiating evidence. The former councilwoman did not respond to my request for comment.
I also contacted the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder’s Office to inquire about Ms. Costanzo’s claims. A spokesperson for the County confirmed that Costanzo filed and withdrew her application for a recount. The spokesperson also said that any rejected (i.e. uncounted) vote-by-mail or provisional ballots for the San Gabriel election were the product of legal protocols (e.g. signature validation, no signature, late postage, double voting, etc.) These same legal protocols apply to all ballots in all elections in California. Finally, the County official explained that the recount applicant sets the perimeters for a recount and the only reason that some votes may not be recounted in a race is if the applicant requests that only certain votes be recounted (e.g. vote-by mail ballots, or certain precincts only).
Rallying the base
Costanzo’s withdrawal of her request for a recount did not stop her daughter, Nicole Costanzo-Ponce, from perpetuating the conspiracy theory, as well as promoting unsubstantiated allegations of vote buying and ballot tampering.
In one post Nicole Costanzo-Ponce wrote on candidate (now councilman) Ding’s Facebook page:
You bought every single vote, sad how this beautiful city has been bought! Devastating news!!!
On a different Facebook post she wrote:
Very sad… sad for the residents of San Gabriel. Unfortunately, Tony Ding paid for his votes… just need to pray for our City!!!”
And in yet another post:
If you voted for Ding you obviously don’t care about the city or don’t do your research! Look at Ding and who endorsed him… What small city election needs a $100k to run a clean campaign… oh right, Ding because he paid everyone!!!!”
Multiple people responded to the posts defending Ding. After someone responded that Ding had not bought her vote, Costanzo-Ponce replied:
Yup, looks like you’re the only one who didn’t get paid or hasn’t owned up to it.
Other posts by Costanzo-Ponce claimed that if her mother had followed through with the recount the County would not have counted all the votes–the implication being that a rigged recount was not worth her mother’s time and money. In response to one post asking about the possibility of a recount, Costanzo-Ponce replied:
Unfortunately the way the county works a recount wasn’t worth it… they won’t allow you to recount all the ballots, just certain ones…
The Facebook threads where these comments were made caused others to weigh in and perpetuate further unsubstantiated claims about illegal ballot tampering.
As previously mentioned, a spokesperson for the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder’s Office stated that all votes counted and certified in the official election result totals would be recounted unless otherwise specified by the recount applicant, which was Costanzo. That said, the official I spoke with noted that if a recount had gone forward both Costanzo and Ding would have had an opportunity to review and possibly challenge any ballots that were rejected as a result of legal vetting before the official tally was certified.
It is worth noting that Ms. Costanzo never weighed in to correct the record regarding her daughter’s posts or the conspiracy theories that followed.
Devolving into Racial/Ethnic Attacks
Most troubling are Costanzo-Ponce’s posts that alluded to Councilman Ding’s race/ethnicity as well as his patriotism as it relates to his racial/ethnic background. In one post, referring to Ding’s accent during his swearing in to the San Gabriel City Council, she wrote:
What an embarrassment hearing him talk… I understood not even one word, pathetic! So sad…
Costanzo-Ponce questioned Ding’s loyalty to the county as a U.S. citizen as well. In responding to a resident who wrote that Ding earned her vote based on merit and kindness, Costanzo-Ponce replied:
…what merits and kindness. He doesn’t know how to speak so was it just his smile and head nod?!? Ask him to say the Pledge of Allegiance…
Again, former-councilwoman Costanzo did not weigh-in to disown these racially insensitive comments posted by her daughter.
The Facebook comments were all deleted the day after I reached out to Juli and her daughter for comment. You can view all them here.
A pattern of crying foul towards Asian Councilmembers
One may be inclined to describe Ms. Costanzo’s actions and her daughter’s Facebook posts as blowing off steam. I won’t do that because (1) blowing off steam does not justify any false and/or racially charged comments that were made, and (2) this is not an uncommon reaction where the winning candidates in San Gabriel is of Asian ethnicity.
It is important to place what happened after the March 2020 San Gabriel elections into context with the City’s demographic make-up as well as previous post-election shenanigans over the last decade in San Gabriel. For this, see my separate op-ed at Anti-Asian Sentiment and San Gabriel Elections.
May was Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. It is important to call out conduct that is not consistent with the spirit of that designation – or with the spirit of the people of San Gabriel.
ColoradoBoulevard.net reached out to both Juli Costanzo and her daughter, Nicole Costanzo-Ponce. Neither responded to our request for comment.
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